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Karol Jozef Wojtyla (John Paul II) was born on 18 May 1920, in Wadowice, as a son of Karol Wojtyla and his wife Emilia Kaczorowska. The atmosphere in his family home, the people around him and his close friends strongly influenced the spiritual and intellectual development of the future Pope.
Karol Wojtyla Senior was born on 18 July 1879 in Lipnik near the city of Bielsko- Biala, as a son of Maciej and Anna. There he completed primary school and three classes of gymnasium. From 1900 he served in the Austrian Army, among other places, in Wadowice, Lwow and Krakow. In 1904 he married Emilia Kaczorowska. Three children were born out of this marriage, Edmund, Olga and Karol. When Poland gained independence Karol Wojtyla Senior joined the Polish army as a lieutenant and served there until his retirement about 1927, which was due to his poor health condition. After his wife’s death in 1929, Karol Senior, who was a hardworking, diligent and intensely religious man, took special care of his youngest son Karol and accompanied him during his school years. From 1938 they lived together in Krakow. He died on 18 February 1942 and four days later was buried at the Rakowicki Cemetery in Krakow.
“Day after day I was able to observe the austere way in which he lived. By profession he was a soldier and, after my mother’s death, his life became one of constant prayer. Sometimes I would wake up during the night and find my father on his knees, just as I would always see him kneeling in the parish church” (John Paul II, “Gift and Mystery”, published by St. Stanislaw BM, Krakow, 1996)
Emilia Wojtyla, nee Kaczorowski, was born on 26 March 1884 in Krakow as the fifth child of the family of Feliks, a saddler, and Maria. Emilia had eight siblings. She graduated from the monastic school of the Sisters of Divine Love. In 1904 she married Karol Wojtyla. She was running the household and taking care of Edmund and Karol; her only daughter, Olga, died shortly after birth. Emilia had poor health and died on 13 April 1929 of inflammation of the heart muscle and kidney. She was buried in the parish cemetery in Wadowice, and her ashes were later transferred to the Rakowicki Cemetery in Krakow.
“I had not yet made my First Holy Communion when I lost my mother: I was barely nine years old. So I do not have a clear awareness of her contribution which must have been great to my religious training…” (John Paul II “Gift and Mystery”, St. Stanislaw BM Publishing House, Krakow 1996)
Edmund Antoni Wojtyla was born on 28 August 1906 as a first child of Karol and Emilia. He was educated in the Austrian Cadet School in Morawy and from 1918 at Wadowice Gymnasium, where he passed matriculation exam in 1924. Within 1924-1925 he studied at the faculty of medicine at the Jagiellonian University. His graduate celebration was held on 29 March 1930 at the Jagiellonian University, in which his brother and father also attended. He worked in the children’s hospital in Krakow and from 1 April 1931 in the City General Hospital in Bielsko- Biala, where he died on 4 December 1932, after a scarlet fever infection.
“It was not given to Edward to work long in this hospital. I do know that he was deeply connected with it, and he treated his work among patients very seriously. I had this feeling when I visited him in the hospital and when we talked about it. In the spirit of medical duties he accompanied in suffering, even when the state of medicine was no longer able to give effective assistance. And then he experienced the deadly disease. His premature departure cached deep in my heart, but not only mine, since the memory of his Samaritan attitude has survived until now. Seventy years from his death, I still remember him with brotherly love and I recommend his soul to the merciful God “. (From the letter to Bishop Tadeusz Rakoczy on the occasion of giving the hospital in Bielsko- Biala the name of Edmund Wojtyla, Vatican 18/ 06/03).
On 20 June 1920 Karol’s parents carried their one month’ old son to the church dedicated to the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, where he was baptized and received the name of Karol Jozef. In the Baptismal Register from the year 1920 there is an entry in Latin: “Karol Jozef Wojtyla, the son of Karol Wojtyla and Emilia Kaczorowska, born on 18 May 1920, baptized on 20 June 1920, Godparents: Jozef Kuczmierczyk and Maria Wiadrowska, Baptised by Franciszek Zak, military chaplain” (Vol. IV, p. 149 item 671).
“When in thought I look back over the long path of my life, I reflect on how the surroundings, the parish and my family brought me to the baptismal font of the church of Wadowice, where I was, given on 20 June 1920 the grace to become a son of God, together with faith in my Redeemer. I have already solemnly kissed this font in the year of the Millennium of the Baptism of Poland, when I was Archbishop of Krakow. Today I wish to kiss it again as Pope, successor of Saint Peter”.
John Paul II, Wadowice, 7 June 1979
Little Karol was called Lolek by his family and close friends and from childhood he experienced great care and love from his family. His friends kept in their memory a picture of Emilia Wojtyla who often spoke with conviction “You’ll see my Lolek will once make a great man”. Karol’s most reliable childhood friend was his elder brother, Edmund. He was an excellent student of medicine. Later he became a doctor, however, he could always find time to make trips with Lolek, play football and talk. At the age of twelve, from the time of his brother’s death, Karol lived alone with his father, who tried to bring him up to be a good person. Three places had a significant impact on shaping Karol’s character: the church, the school and the theatre.
“With filial devotion I kiss the threshold of the family home, expressing gratitude to Divine Providence for the gift of life handed to me by my parents, a warm family nest, for the love of my family, which gave a sense of security and power, even when they had to experience death and the difficulties of everyday life in troubled times” John Paul II, Wadowice, 16 June 1999.
“With profound veneration I also embrace the threshold of the house of God, the parish church of Wadowice, and in it the Baptistery, in which I was joined to Christ and received into the community of his Church. In this church I made my first Confession and received my First Holy Communion. Here I was an altar boy. Here I gave thanks to God for the gift of the priesthood and, as Archbishop of Kraków, I celebrated the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of my Ordination to the Priesthood. God alone, the giver of every grace, knows what goodness and what manifold graces I received from this church and from this parish community. To him, the Triune God, I give glory today at the doors of this church.”
John Paul II, Wadowice, 16 June 1999
The parish church in Wadowice, which can be found in the neighbourhood where Karol Wojtyla was born and lived, was an important place in his life. From an early age Lolek willingly took part in the Holy Mass and service. He was encouraged to serve at the altar by priests and his parents, but especially by his father.
“At the age of ten, twelve, I was an altar boy, but I must confess that not to zealous. My mother was already dead…My father seeing my indiscipline said one day: “You are not a good altar boy. You don’t pray enough to the Holy Spirit. You should pray to Him”. And he showed me a prayer (….) I did not forget it. That was an important spiritual lesson, long-lasting and stronger than all that I could pull out from reading or teaching that I received. For this day I hear the conviction with which my Father spoke to me” (Andre Frossard “Portrait of Pope John Paul II).
He was shaped by priests, which were his catechists, carers of the altar boys and ministers involved in the Marian Sodality, including Rev. Kazimierz Figlewicz and Rev. Edward Zacher.
“On the human level, I want to express my feelings of deep gratitude to Rev. Prelate Edward Zacher, who was my religion teacher in the Wadowice Gymnasium, who later gave the talk at my first celebrations as Bishop, Archbishop and Cardinal here in the Church of Wadowice, and who finally has spoken again today on the occasion of this new stage in my life, which cannot be explained except by the boundless mercy of God and the exceptional protection of the Mother of God” (John Paul II, Wadowice, 7June 1979).
He owes his veneration of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to the Carmelites from Górka.
“As for the teenage years I return in spirit to that place of special devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which exerted such great influence on the spirituality of the land of Wadowice. I myself utilize from this place many graces for which I thank God today”.
“As to this day I wear a scapular, as I received it at the Carmelites on Górka as a teenager” (John Paul II, Wadowice, 16 June 1999.)
His early years were also marked by the Sisters of Nazareth, leading orphanage for children in Wadowice, which Lolek also attended.
“In my days there were only the Sisters of Nazareth and I was even going there at age, when a person is called a ‘baby’” (John Paul II, Wadowice, June 16, 1999).
However, it was his father who instilled in Karol the love for the Calvary Sanctuary in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska and the Kalwaria Paths. It all gave shape of his future
Karol Wojtyla began his education in the four-class elementary school in 1926. His class was very large, since there were over sixty students. The boys learned Polish language, religion, arithmetic, singing and drawing, handwork and gymnastics. His colleagues remembered Lolek as a talented student and a good friend. He was happy to assist them in learning. He finished elementary school with honours.
In 1930, Karol began to attend the Marcin Wadowita eight-class Gymnasium, which was located at 16 Mickiewicz Street (formerly Wiedeńska Street). There, on the wall, there was a meaningful old motto of the Roman poet Albiusa Tibullusa: “Casta placent superis, pura cum veste venite, et minibus puris sumite fontis aquam” (God likes everything that is pure, so come in a clean robe and with clean hands draw water from the source). Karol was developing his humanistic interests; his favourite subjects in addition to Polish language were Latin, Greek and religion…. He was a diligent student, always trying to help the weaker academic colleagues. On 27 May 1938 after passing his matriculation exam he graduated from the gymnasium.
“Thanks Wadowice for these schools, of which so much I took a light: first elementary school then this excellent Wadowice Gymnasium dedicated to Marcin Wadowity” (John Paul II, Wadowice, 14 August 1991). “In mind and heart I go back to my peer colleagues, the boys and the girls, both from primary school years, and perhaps even more from the years of secondary school, because they lasted longer. I belonged to that generation that went to eight- class Gymnasium. I also go back, together with my peers, to our parents, our teachers and professors. Not many of them are still alive. Some of my peers, especially those with whom we graduated together in 1938 (…)” (John Paul II, 7 June 1979)
“Thanks Wadowice for these schools, of which so much I took a light: first elementary school then this excellent Wadowice Gymnasium dedicated to Marcin Wadowity”
John Paul II, Wadowice, 14 August 1991.
“In mind and heart I go back to my peer colleagues, the boys and the girls, both from primary school years, and perhaps even more from the years of secondary school, because they lasted longer. I belonged to that generation that went to eight- class Gymnasium. I also go back, together with my peers, to our parents, our teachers and professors. Not many of them are still alive. Some of my peers, especially those with whom we graduated together in 1938 (…)”
John Paul II, 7 June 1979
Since his childhood, he was taught Polish literature by his father. School education enabled him to know and acquire a taste for national, classic and world literature. As a student of gymnasium Karol played in Antigone, Balladyna and the Undivine Comedy. But the unique way of declamation of poetry or other texts he learned from Mieczyslaw Kotlarski.
“At it (Mickiewicz Street) is a Gymnasium dedicated to Marcin Wadowity, where I was a student for eight years. At first I was a student of primary education here in this building, where the office of the city municipality is now. Then I went to Gymnasium and from Gymnasium to “Sokół” for physical classes. We were also going to “Sokół” to see plays. I also remember Mieczyslaw Kotlarski, the great founder of the speech theatre, I remember my colleagues – Halina Krolikiewiczowna – Kwiatkowska. I recollect also already dead Zbyszek Silkowski, in the house which belonged to the Homme family. In any case, here, in this town, in Wadowice, everything started. My life started, the school started and the studies started, the theatre started and the priesthood started”
John Paul II, Wadowice, 16 June 1999.
“When we were in the fifth class in the secondary school we played Antigone by Sophocles. [Antigone – Halina, Ismene – Kazia, My God] And I played Haemon. “Oh my dear sister, Ismene, do you not see that from Edyps’ disasters no fate will save us?” I remember to this day. [Do you still play now; do you have an amateur theatre in “Sokół”?]. That one was a great one”.
John Paul II, Wadowice, 16 June 1999
Karol Wojtyla moved from Wadowice with his father in 1938 to study Classical Polish in Krakow.